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Climate change: a health hazard that requires a collaborative response

A Concordia researcher calls for transdisciplinary solutions to help us adapt to global warming
December 1, 2015
By Cléa Desjardins

Climate change has implications not only for our ecosystems, but also for the health of humans. At the United Nations Conference on Climate Change (COP21), currently underway in Paris, negotiators from 195 countries are working on a plan to reduce carbon emissions and limit global warming to two degrees Celsius.

In a study recently published in the Annals of Global Health, Concordia political science professor Peter Stoett and co-authors* from New York City and Washington, DC, review the links between climate change, the processes leading to greenhouse gas emissions and health outcomes.

Peter Stoett: “I hope that the climate talks help educate the general public about the perils of unchecked emissions.” Peter Stoett: “I hope that the climate talks help educate the general public about the perils of unchecked emissions.”

“Our research shows that there are serious health threats related to climate change, both realized and potential — and that we need new, creative, bold transdisciplinary thinking to both promote the mitigation of climate change and, just as importantly, to help people and communities adapt,” says Stoett.

The paper is timely because, as Stoett says, “the global attention being paid to COP21 simultaneously reflects the near-universal acceptance of the need to take serious action on climate change, and the realities of a competitive world economy.”

A collaborative opportunity to create solutions

After conducting research into the current and projected health outcomes associated with climate change, and reviewing opportunities for adaptation and mitigation across disciplines, Stoett and his co-authors found that the consequences of climate change affect a wide range of stakeholders.

That means there are collaborative opportunities to create solutions — it’s not just up to the doctors to provide a cure.

"Although health professionals are challenged with risks from climate change, the adverse health outcomes cannot be resolved by the public health community alone," says Stoett.

The study proposes that a phase change in global health is needed. Instead of being a passive responder, the sector needs to partner with others to drive innovative alternatives.

“It is essential for global health to step outside of its traditional boundaries to engage with other stakeholders to develop policy and practical solutions to mitigate disease burden of climate change and its drivers. This will also yield compound benefits that help address other health, environmental and societal challenges."

What we can expect from COP21

Although Stoett anticipates that long-term commitments made during the Paris conference will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, he cautions that we should not expect a global plan on how, exactly, this will be done.

What should we look for? “We can hope for commitments to finance adaptation efforts in areas that will bear disproportionate costs that have made relatively small contributions to the problem,” he says.

“We can also hope that the climate talks help educate the general public about the perils of unchecked emissions, and in particular the emerging science on its impact on ecosystems, services, biodiversity, and human health and security.”

*Partners in research: The co-authors of this study are: Catherine Machalaba (City University of New York School of Public Health, EcoHealth Alliance, Future Earth (ecoHEALTH project), Cristina Romanelli (Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity), Peter Stoett (Concordia University), Sarah E. Baum (Barnard College), Timothy A. Bouley (World Bank Group), Peter Daszak (EcoHealth Alliance, Future Earth ecoHEALTH project) and William B. Karesh (EcoHealth Alliance, Future Earth ecoHEALTH project).

Support for the study was provided by the DIVERSITAS-Future Earth ecoHEALTH project and the PREDICT project of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Emerging Pandemic Threats program.

Read the original study, “Climate Change and Health: Transcending Silos to Find Solutions.”


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